Is it postnatal depression or just the baby blues?

New mum blues ... are you a bit down in the dumps, or could it be depression?
New mum blues ... are you a bit down in the dumps, or could it be depression? 

Feeling a bit down after the birth of your baby? You’re not alone: according to BeyondBlue, up to 80 percent of women will experience the 'baby blues' in the days following their child’s birth. But for some women, the anxiety and sadness isn’t just about ‘feeling a bit down’ –  it’s a sign of postnatal depression.

The blues
Most mums experience the baby blues between three and five days after giving birth; for some women it’s a time of just feeling a bit ‘blah’, while others can get quite teary. It can be pretty confusing – after all, you’ve just given birth and have a brand new baby, so why are you crying?

Well, your hormones are all over the place, for starters – the sudden hormonal shift that occurs after birth can have a very real impact on your emotions. Some women also feel sad they’re no longer pregnant and miss having their baby safe and snug inside them. Add a lack of sleep and the stresses of being a mum trying to learn the ropes with a new baby, and you’ve got the perfect cocktail for teariness.

But according to Dr Nicole Highet, Deputy CEO of beyondblue, this feeling will soon pass. ‘The baby blues is a short period of sadness,” she says, “[It] generally subsides on its own without any formal intervention.”

Still, if you’re feeling sad or just emotional, it can be a good idea to talk to someone about it. Speak to your partner, a friend or your midwife for support and encouragement in this exciting – but daunting, tiring and confusing – time in your life.

It can be pretty confusing – after all, you’ve just given birth and have a brand new baby, so why are you crying?

Postnatal depression 
For one in every seven mums, these feelings of sadness and confusion are actually a sign of something else: postnatal depression (PND).

PND is a mood disorder that can strike at any time in the first year after the birth, but can go undiagnosed for much longer. While it can hit suddenly, it can also start small before gradually worsening over a longer length of time, making it harder for the mum to recognise in herself. Unlike the baby blues, the symptoms of PND don’t go away after a few days.

The signs of PND vary from person to person, but can include the following:

  • feeling sad, irritable or unhappy most of the time
  • loss of interest in work, hobbies or things that used to be enjoyed
  • chronic exhaustion or hyperactivity
  • difficulties with concentration, memory or decision-making
  • feeling unable to cope with daily tasks
  • anxiety/panic attacks
  • negative, recurring or morbid thoughts
  • loss of confidence and self-esteem
  • feelings of guilt or inadequacy
  • fear of being alone, or of social contact
  • thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

As well as these signs, sufferers might feel inadequate as a mum, and feel that they don’t love their baby. In extreme cases, women with PND might also want to harm their baby – or just be scared they might lose control and hurt the child.

If you’re unsure if you’re suffering from the baby blues or PND, you can take this test on the beyondblue site. It won’t give you a diagnosis, but can help you recognise if you have any of the common signs of PND.   

Reagardless, if you have any concerns about how you’re feeling or coping with motherhood, it’s really important you speak to someone about it. You can talk to your doctor, who can help organise treatment (usually medication and counselling) or your midwife, or call beyondblue for advice on 1300 22 4636. If you’re in urgent need of help, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, 24 hours a day, for counseling, information and referrals.

Visit to learn more about postnatal depression, how to get help, and how to recognise PND in others.